U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse visited a vineyard north of Prosser this week to unveil a bill aimed at improving water delivery and storage in the Yakima Valley and across the country.
Newhouse, flanked by a dried-up vineyard on one side and a healthy, well-watered crop on the other, used the contrasting fields to explain the Yakima Valley’s vital lifeblood — water.
He told a crowd of about 20 well-wishers at Willard Farms how his bill would make it easier for irrigation districts to tap federal funds to make infrastructure upgrades, add an additional $550 million for dam repairs and provide more flexibility for reservoir storage.
“This is going to be a great thing for water users throughout the country,” Newhouse said to the group of irrigators, farmers and Yakima County Commissioner Ron Anderson. “I’m truly excited about this bill. I think it’s going to take us to the next step we need to go.”
The bill — Water Supply Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Utilization Act — comes at a time when the over-allocated Yakima River Basin is facing increasing water demand for farmers, domestic users and fish.
Federal water infrastructure has long endured deferred maintenance, local irrigation districts are struggling to fund improvement projects and climate change continues to foster increasing drought.
Much of the Bureau of Reclamation’s infrastructure is more than a half-century old. In the Yakima Valley, some is approaching the 80-year mark.
“A lot of it is in need of repair,” Newhouse said.
Loans for irrigation districts
His bill aims to fix much of that.
When Congress in 2009 authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to fund extraordinary maintenance projects, it failed to establish a simple funding process.
Existing appropriations were allocated for improvement projects that local irrigation projects could repay over time. But clear definitions were never established, making it difficult for irrigation districts to tap funds.
Repayment of such projects return to the Bureau’s general fund rather than back into the project’s fund.
The bill defines such projects that would be eligible and establishes a revolving fund to pay for them.
Also, the bill would add $550 million into a fund to improve the structural integrity of dams and provide more flexibility for reservoir water storage from flood areas to improve water supply during drought years.
“We appreciate Congressman Newhouse’s efforts,” said Scott Revell, manager of the Roza Irrigation District. “It’s not an easy task to get this bill through Congress.”
Newhouse introduced the bill Thursday and expects bipartisan support.
“I’m looking forward to getting this passed and on to President Trump’s desk,” he said.